As many families in America struggle to pay their bills amid a sticky recession and deep unemployment, now at 9.5%, Michelle Obama’s luxe vacation to Spain has sparked out-of-touch outrage that has even the European press crying muy mal.
While the White House spokesman has described her trip with youngest daughter Sasha as private—and the First Lady reportedly paid for her own travel expenses—the European voyage cost taxpayers close to a quarter million dollars in presidential security.
That figure has drawn a fierce public scolding from press types and political watchers here and across the pond who dubbed the Obamas hypocrites for urging belt-tightening and fiscal sacrifice by average Americans, even as they continue a spate of vacations that will include ten days in tony Martha’s Vineyard later this month.
“To be clear, what the Obamas do with their money is one thing; what they do with ours is another,” wrote New York Daily News blogger Andrea Tantaros, who compared the First Lady with historic spender Marie Antoinette, who when told the people had no bread, famously said, “Let them eat cake.”
“I don’t begrudge anymore rest and relaxation when they work hard. We all need downtime—the first family included,” she said. “It’s the extravagance of Michelle Obama’s trip and glitzy destination contrasted with President Obama’s demonization of the rich that smack of hypocrisy and perpetuates a disconnect between the county and its leaders.”
Mrs. Obama, who has earned a reputation as global stylista for her model height and youthfully appropriate wardrobe sense, won no plaudits for restraint, touring the sites in Spain clad in Jean Paul Gautier and other expensive designer fashions. She and her group stayed in a Ritz Carlton resort near Marbella where junior rooms start at about $400 per day. Add in Secret Service, a government jet and an entourage of assistants and press types, and voters are left to wonder why a jet-set trip was a good idea—particularly now.
Perception junkies also wondered why Spain, rather than a good old U.S. resort in keeping with promoting American tourism, was her choice, particularly at a time when many families couldn’t afford a camping vacation, much less a European jaunt.
The White House dismissed the angry hoopla around her pricey travels as her business and not ours. It noted, according to published accounts, that she took a trip with a grieving female friend and their children, a get-together because the First Lady could not attend her galpal’s father’s funeral.
“The First Lady is on a private trip. She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended last week.
To that, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet wrote bluntly: “Gibbs is wrong… Mrs. Obama is a public figure and it is reasonable to ask how he spends taxpayer resources.”
The poll-popular Mrs. Obama—thought to be her sagging husband’s biggest secret weapon to stump ahead of the November Ccongressional midterms—has her defenders.
I think it’s wrong to talk about the First Lady’s family vacation as a politician. She’s a mom,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, on NBC’s Today Show. “When you’re in office, you don’t give up being a mom and a family member.”
Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post, noted that President George W. Bush, during his two terms, took 77 trips to his Crawford, Texas ranch. She described Michelle Obama’s Spanishgate this way: “So as a political matter, the trip to Spain was not a good idea. You don’t need Dick Morris—who famously polled the Clinton’s vacation plans and pushed Jackson Hole over Martha’s Vineyard—to tell you it’s not going to play well at a time of 9.5% unemployment.”
Still, with perception an enormous reality in Washington and a newbie administration struggling to gain traction on nearly every front, foreign and domestic, the trip rings for many as “tone deaf” and hardly inclusive of the current economic climate where real families continue to struggle hard.
Wrote Mary Stanik, a Minneapolis writer and public relations professional from Minneapolis in a column posted Monday on MinnPost.com: “The trouble is, Mrs. Obama is no longer an ordinary affluent American. She’s the First Lady, and many millions of her fellow citizens are miserable from the effects of the worst economic downturn since Mrs. Roosevelt was in the White House.
She’s also a highly intelligent attorney who was part of a campaign that mastered the meaning of optic and symbolism in electing Barack Obama President against what some would have considered insurmountable odds only a few years ago. Yes, she ought to know better. A lot better.”